Upon hurriedly leaving the achingly hip Proud Galleries in Camden, I felt I had learnt two important lessons for the future:
Never underestimate how long a venue will be willing to keep you waiting, especially if there’s a bar.
Never underestimate the ability of a band to overrun their half an hour set; even when they only have twenty-one minutes of released material.
There’s always the potential dilemma of arriving at a gig too early – as there is in leaving it to late – but the problem seemed especially tricky in this case as I was on my own and it was Valentine’s day. So arriving at the venue at 8pm and realising the support act, South African funk rockers Desmond and the Tutus, wouldn’t be on for another two hours wasn’t the best of starts to my replacement for expressing my undying love to that special someone or sipping champagne and eating strawberries with them. But after two hours of awkward waiting, drinking and even more awkward chatter with strangers the show began, I quite enjoyed it.
As their name would suggest, Desmond and the tutus don’t take themselves too seriously, but that’s not to say that they’re a joke outfit. Their music is eminently infectious and danceable, perhaps not the best qualities to have when you’re supporting the uncompromisingly lo-fi and eminently undanceable Vivian Girls, but it was a welcome distraction from drinking and chatting to other romantic fuck-ups on Valentine’s Day. After all, listening to the nihilistic ‘I Believe in Nothing’ might have been a bit much to stomach in my mental state without a little sweetener beforehand.
After semi-successfully getting a small crowd that was militantly in presence to see the latest Pitchfork buzz band, and no one else, to perform the ludicrous ‘Robot’ dance maneuver, (Outstretch your right arm and wave it about floppily and do robotic, staccato movements with your left arm, whilst forming a claw with your left hand and you’re probably doing it right) the tutus left, confident in the knowledge that they had performed admirably in front of a less than receptive crowd.
After another half an hour of awkward chatter and drinking, a noticeably larger crowd returned to see the main event. The Vivian Girls had already unceremoniously taken to the stage before their 11 pm start time, apparently undaunted by their lack of material to fill a half an hour set even if they took to the stage 8 minutes late, they casually set up and tuned up before the house music faded and they began.
Normally I’d give a detailed song by song breakdown of the set, point out what worked, what didn’t, what were the high points, what song choices worked etc etc, but it all seems rather pointless when talking about a Vivian Girls gig. If you are interested, they played all their stuff off the album and some stuff that isn’t. They played at least one song twice, although it’s impossible to tell sometimes thanks to their no-fi sound and venue’s shaky sound quality when it came to vocals – something quite crippling when you consider how slight the vocals are on the record anyway. They made some awkward, but endearing, between song chatter that completely killed the whole apathetic, disaffected thing they’ve got going on in their look and music; giggly and girly chatter about Valentine’s day, Weed and Amsterdam does not gel with the whole punk thing, but maybe that’s the point, they’re so punk that they don’t care about looking cool and therefore they’re cool for not caring about looking cool (Bonus points for recognising the Simpsons reference).
The one thing that I can say about their performance that comes to mind (and rings in the ear) is that is was very loud. Which was beneficial for their shoegazy, punk sound they’ve got going on. Live, they’re a band that you feel and experience as much as you listen to. Where the album can sound muddy and incomprehensibly dense at times, it shines when performed loud. The guitar shimmers and rings, enveloping everything in a bubble of sound, which it does on the record, sometimes to its detriment on less beefy sound systems. But live ‘Kickball Katy”s bassplaying really punctures through and provides melody and drive to songs that often feel like they lack it on record. They don’t do anything massively different to the songs, but they bang them out loud at relentless pace, which makes all the difference. If you really want to experience their music, like most bands with a shoegaze/phil spector influence you really need to see them live.
They’re also a lot of fun to watch, listening to the record in the context of all hyperbolic praise it has received you can often feel like you’re listening to a practical joke. You can almost imagine the three girls sneering at you from behind the record, laughing at your naivety for buying their amateurish attempts at rock music. But watching them fly through their set at a song a minute (sometimes literally), intently playing their respective instruments, enthusiastically moving about the stage and engaging in bubbly chatter with the audience, you realise that they are just having fun and are, most probably, entirely earnest about what they do.
In conclusion, the fact that I stayed till the end of their set, and therefore risking being stranded in Camden for the night, is the best compliment I can play the show.
Check them out if you can and enjoy my romantically themed selection from their limited discography.